Patton’s Folly: Is MMS Indictable for Gulf Disaster?

Frank Patton - the unlicensed MMS engineer who approved Deepwater Horizon Plans on Apr 16, 2010

By: Larry Walker, Jr.

Frank Patton (left), the unlicensed Minerals Management Service (MMS) engineer, who approved the plans for the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, actually never saw the plans. Yet, Patton issued his approval on April 16, 2010, just four days before the blowout.

During the oil rig explosion hearings held in mid-May, Patton admitted that he has never asked for, nor reviewed, blowout preventer plans on any of more than 100 applications his office approves each year. In fact, Patton stated that he was never instructed that he needed to review such plans.

When asked whether this is standard MMS policy, or just Frank Patton’s policy, Mr. Patton said, “I’m not sure.”

What? You’re not sure?

It’s bad enough that Patton is not a licensed Professional Engineer (PE). (See An Unlicensed MMS Engineer and The Gulf Disaster). But his not knowing why he would need to ask to see the actual blowout preventer plans, before he approves them, is just plain ignorant. Without even looking at the plans, Patton has perhaps approved more than 100 blowout preventers each year. What happened to due diligence? What happened to common sense?

Has the Federal Government gotten so big that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing? It sure looks that way. Why are Federal employees exempted from being required to hold PE licenses? There’s really no excuse.

It’s time for the Federal government to stop placing all the blame for this disaster on BP, to man-up, and to take responsibility for its own failures. This message is for the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. For God’s sake, open up your eyes, and then start telling the truth for a change.

Following are some excerpts from the oil rig explosion hearings:

Under scrutiny from officials in his own agency, the local Minerals Management Service engineer who approved BP’s application to drill under the Deepwater Horizon admitted that he approved the blowout preventer that failed to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill without assurances that its last-ditch mechanism would work on the drill pipe the company was using.

Jason Mathews, an MMS official who sits on the six-member joint Coast Guard and MMS investigative board, questioned Frank Patton, the agency’s New Orleans District drilling engineer, about his approval of BP’s drilling permit. Mathews noted that MMS regulation 250.416(e) requires would-be drillers to submit proof that the blowout preventer they are using to shut off the well will have enough power to shear a drill pipe in case of an emergency.

Those mechanisms on the 450-ton blowout preventer at the bottom of the seabed are called blind shear rams, a pair of high-pressure valves and blades that are supposed to slice through a gushing drill pipe and close off a well leak. But attempts to get those shear rams to operate on the well below the Deepwater Horizon have been unsuccessful since the April 20 disaster.

Patton testified he was not aware of any such requirement and never demands it from more than 100 applications his office reviews each year.

“I have never been told to look for this statement,” Patton said. The BP application had “no information on blind shear rams’ ability to shear the drill pipe used.”

“If they didn’t submit it, why did we approve it?” Mathews asked.

“That is one thing I don’t look for in my approval process,” Patton said. “I’ve never looked for that statement there.”

“Is this just you, or is this MMS-wide? ” Mathews persisted.

“I’m not sure,” Patton said sheepishly.

Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune and An Unlicensed MMS Engineer and The Gulf Disaster

An Unlicensed MMS Engineer and The Gulf Disaster

We Don't Need No Stinking License

By: Larry Walker, Jr.

Frank Patton is the name of the unlicensed Minerals Management Service (MMS) Engineer who approved the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. No, that’s not his picture to the left. That’s another matter for another day.

Funny, but I can’t find Tony Hayward’s name on any of those, smoking gun, internal emails being touted around by the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, but I do see Frank Patton’s name. Yep, on April 16, 2010 – ‘Approved By’ – Frank Patton.

From the trial (or hearing) the other day, you would think it was Congress’ job to oversee and investigate private businesses. I somehow don’t think that was part of the original plan. What I would like to see is a subcommittee investigating why federal workers are not required to maintain credentials equal to, or greater than, those whom they regulate.

Who’s regulating the regulators? Unlicensed engineers are approving plans submitted by licensed engineers. When are we going to have a trial about stuff that really matters?

According to licensed Professional Engineer (PE), and whistleblower, Joe Carlson, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), just as other federal agencies, does not require their Engineers to be professionally licensed. Instead, federal agencies have invoked a special ‘exemption’ whereby unlicensed federal workers are above reproach. In other words, “We don’t need no stinking license.” You’ve got to be kidding me!

As one who holds two professional licenses (not in engineering), each with its own rigorous set of ongoing requirements, I have nothing but contempt for the federal government, the Congress, and our feckless POTUS, in this matter. There are no excuses. How is an unlicensed ‘engineer’ supposed to have the ability, training, and the professional integrity to review and approve plans designed by professionally licensed engineers?

What’s worse is the fact that Frank Patton can’t be blamed, fired, reprimanded or fined. Why not, you say? Because, remember, Frank Patton is not even licensed. But Congress can go around blaming Tony Hayward, who is also not licensed, and whose name is curiously not found on any of those damning internal emails. I do however see the names: Brian Morel, Mark Hafle, and Richard Miller. Perhaps they are licensed and should be brought up on charges by the appropriate engineering licensing board. And as for Frank Patton, I just wonder how many safety awards are hanging in his office?

Following are a few excerpts from Joe Carlson:

Frank Patton is the unlicensed MMS engineer who approved the BP drilling plan. During his May 11, 2010 testimony (see pages 252-314) to the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation, he admitted, (see pages 274-76), that he failed to ensure the BP Drilling Plan complied with federal regulation at 30 C.F.R. §250.416(e), because it did not contain the required information about the design and performance adequacy of the blow-out preventer. The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which live-blogged the hearing, described his testimony here.

If MMS required its engineers to be PE’s, then Mr. Patton would have been required to “blow whistles,” publicly if necessary, to prevent BP’s inadequate drilling plan from being approved. This could well have resulted in his being fired or otherwise discriminated against at MMS, given widespread, longstanding, MMS corruption. However, had MMS required Mr. Patton to be a PE, then anyone could now file a professional misconduct complaint against him with the Louisiana Professional Engineering Licensing Board, for his professional negligence/incompetence in approving a plan that failed to comply with federal regulation. If he lost his PE license as a result, then MMS could fire him. If he had been a PE, Frank Patton would have made sure the BP drilling plan contained the required information about its blowout preventer and perhaps this unprecedented disaster is averted….

The federal government has a duty to protect American health and safety, at work and elsewhere, including our environment. PE’s, by law, must “hold paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public in the performance of professional duty.” That federal agencies exempt their engineers from having the legal obligations of PE’s is nonsensical and a contributing cause to the Gulf disaster and many other accidents and disasters, such as the recent Upper Big Branch mine disaster which killed 29 in West Virginia.

Here is a formula we can all live with:

Federal PE licensure + reformed federal whistleblower protection = much improved workplace and public health and safety in America.

Read More at the Source: Whistleblowers Protection Blog